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on 25 June 2016
James Baldwin's short novel "Giovanni's Room". It's about a young man struggling with his sexuality. Published in the 50s, and set in France.
Although I am straight, and have never been remotely interested in men...I have a sympathy for anyone going through any kind of emotional turmoil.
David, the narrator, has a sentience which is impossible to me, and every moment would be painful if I was that aware of my feelings...but it's Baldwin's psychological clarity which is the punch of the book. Its USP.
David finds himself, loses himself, and breaks the continuity with his old life and American destiny in a grubby little room belonging to the charismatic Giovanni. In France, homosexuality was permissible, unlike in the UK, but people's dalliances and relationships were mostly clandestine and hidden away from the respectable veneer of society. Young men, knowing their life could never be accepted in the mainstream, find themselves at the mercy of poorly paid jobs, with no future. And many rely on the patronage of wealthy men, who prey on them in the shadows of Paris.
That Baldwin was a black man, living in Paris, is notable. But despite the obvious struggles Baldwin must have faced in America and France with his ethnicity, there isn't a trace of that in the book. But there is an intensity to sexual politics. And the character of David's girlfriend, Hella, is drawn with sympathetic attention to her own struggles, both as a woman...and as someone who realises the person she loves, she didn't really know at all.